WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Senior Center is in the midst of an extensive, long-needed exterior facelift. New tables, chairs and other furniture now grace the community staple. A ramp compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is in the works. And a new paint job and flooring could also be in its future.
Everything below the surface at the Senior Center is also getting a major upgrade.
Since taking control of the center last year, the City of Watsonville has slowly started moving it into the 21st century.
The Senior Center will now be linked into the City’s vast fiber optic cable route. That upgrade will be a boon for both City employees and those who frequent the center, as it will allow the facility to offer fast, reliable and secure Internet access. In the past, all at the Senior Center would share WIFI connectivity from a singular router operated by one of the five public service providers at the center, according to Parks and Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib.
“It’s going to change the way we position the building and ready us for the new wave of seniors that are going to be coming through sooner rather than later,” Calubaquib said.
That “new wave” being baby boomers and Generation X, two generations that are growing more and more attached to tech. A report by the Statista Research Department in 2018 claimed that by the start of this year there would be 100 million smartphone users aged 45 and older—equal to roughly a third of the country’s population.
A Census Bureau report that same year said that by 2035 there will be 78 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18—a historical shift in demographics for the country. In Watsonville, children ages 0-19 currently make up 33 percent of the population, while adults 50 or older are 25 percent of the population. But as the baby boomer generation ages, the latter is expected to grow at a faster rate than all other demographics.
In anticipation of that change, the City Council earlier this month enrolled as an AARP Age Friendly Community, and also became the first city in Santa Cruz County to support the county-wide Age Friendly Communities initiative. Both initiatives aim to improve the everyday life of the older adult community by addressing areas such as housing, transportation, accessibility and community and health services.
The Area Agency on Aging for Santa Cruz and San Benito counties is leading the latter initiative, which will develop an action plan that every county jurisdiction will follow for the foreseeable future.
Calubaquib called the initiative an “exciting” opportunity for Watsonville and for the City’s new Older Adults Services Supervisor Katie Nuñez, who starts in early March. Nuñez, Calubaquib said, will not only be tasked with handling Watsonville’s participation in that initiative but also adding several new programs to the Senior Center’s currently-slim offerings.
“We’ve made a little bit of progress but once we get our full-time person in here, I think that’s when we’ll really start to see things move forward,” Calubaquib said.
The City took control of the Senior Center in November, pledging a roughly $176,000 investment into the building, programs and staff. The City Council unanimously approved the move in October.
“I’m really proud about the step that we’re taking,” City Councilman Francisco “Paco” Estrada, then Mayor, said after the approval. “I hope that our senior community understands that we are putting skin in the game. We are committed to our senior citizens. We’re serious about making sure you have the services that you need. You are in good hands with [Calubaquib].”
The Senior Center for the previous 39 years was run by local nonprofit Association of Watsonville Area Seniors, which rented the City-owned building for $1 per year.
Calubaquib said the transition was, as expected, difficult for some seniors. He said he feels the community is starting to come around.
“It was a big change but I think we’ve been able to move past that,” he said.
Esther Herrera said she has been coming to the center for the past 15 years. Some changes have been easier than others, she said.
“I like some of the changes and some of them I don’t like,” she said. “The new round tables are nice in the lounge area and they brought in a large TV for us to see movies—that’s nice. They also brought in some games that people enjoy playing.”
Herrera added that she thinks attendance remains about the same as the days before the City took over.
“We regularly have theme days, which everyone seems to enjoy,” she said.
Editor’s note: Katie Nuñez is the author’s wife.